Business Musings: Creating Content, Using Licenses, Making Something New (Rethinking The Writing Business Part 13)

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A few months ago, I found myself in an odd situation. My attorney and I were trying to write a contract for something brand new, something we believe has never been done before. We were trying to find the right language to create contract that would cover everything we wanted to do—I wanted to do—on a brand-new project that would go live in November.

The project is what we’re now calling The WMG Holiday Spectacular 2019. We didn’t even have a name for it in the spring, although we batted around several ideas.

And getting me to explain the project clearly took a lot of practice.

Here’s what the Spectacular is:

  • A calendar of 35 stories. The calendar runs from November 28, 2019 to January 1, 2020. As each day arrives, one story will get unlocked. The reader will receive a link to the story in a newsletter, along with an introduction to that story, and some artwork. The reader can then use the link to download the story in the reader’s preferred ebook format.
  • A compilation of the 35 stories along with their introductions in one gigantic ebook, released in July of 2020.
  • Three anthologies, issued in ebook and in paper formats, in October of 2020. The anthologies, Joyous Christmas, The Winter Holidays, and Bloody Christmas, will have different introductions by me. Each anthology contains 11 stories, all of which first appeared in the newsletters. That’s 33 stories, for those of you who are counting.
  • Two stories, by me, which appear in the compilation and the newsletter but not in the anthologies.
  • A novel, also by me (as Kristine Grayson), which stands alone.

To put all of this together, we needed:

  • 35 stories
  • That novel
  • Artwork for the covers of the five books (the novel, the compilation, and the three anthologies)
  • A calendar that would appear on the website

When I first came up with this idea, years ago, I wanted to write all of the stories myself. At first, I envisioned a holiday spectacular to run from Halloween to New Year’s Day, but that period in early November felt a little too unfocused for me.

So I decided on American Thanksgiving, (which always falls on the fourth Thursday of November), to New Year’s Day, (which fortunately falls on the same day every year). That’s 35 days in 2019. In 2020, that’s 37 days. In 2021, that’s 38 days…

So it’ll never be entirely consistent, which is actually a good thing, should this project last longer than a year.

I’m hoping for that. I’m hoping this will grow into a holiday tradition for a whole slew of readers. They’ll know that each year, they’ll get a raft of holiday and winter(ish) stories, some anthologies, and more.

The inspiration comes from my love of calendars. (I order at least 5 year to keep myself on track, not counting the online calendars that I use.) Then, in 2010, I received a Jacquie Lawson online advent calendar from a friend. Jacquie Lawson is an illustrator who fell into doing ecards and other things.  The advent calendar is an absolute joy. The first one wasn’t very complicated. But the ones these past few years have become quite intricate. Here’s how the site describes them.

A beautiful main scene conceals a new game, animated story or other activity for every day of December up to Christmas Day, all accompanied by music carefully selected for each occasion. You can design your own tartan, build your own snowflakes and, of course, decorate your own Christmas Tree. There are a selection of fun activities available even before the start of December, and the main scene itself is also full of unexpected surprises, gradually becoming more colourful and festive as the big day draws near.

When I was so ill in Lincoln City, I couldn’t travel or go out much or even see a movie locally. Celebrating the season was very difficult. The calendar made all the difference. It was something to look forward to every day.

Around 2010-2011 or so, I also ordered a 12 Days of Christmas promotion from a major music retailer, which sent me a song or an interview every day. The music retailer never repeated the experience, dang it, but it stayed in my mind.

I wondered how to do this kind of project for fiction, and then came up with the Calendar of Stories (because I love holiday fiction).  After I discarded the idea of writing the whole thing myself, I brought in a bunch of other writers, all of whom are wonderful. They wrote for the three anthologies, not for a particular day or date.

I eventually ended up writing for a particular date, when one of those dates was missing from the stories I chose.

After I had the 35 stories, I put them in a logical order for the calendar (so, for example, you will get a Small Business Saturday story on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and a solstice story on December 21). At first, I figured we would get artwork for each story, then decided that was too difficult.

We ended up with art for each of the three anthologies. The newsletters that go out every day will have one of those three headers, so that readers will know which anthology the story belongs in (Bloody, Joyous or Winter). I also put the mood/tone/genre at the very top of the newsletter, so that squeamish readers could avoid the dark stories and non-romantics could avoid the mushy stuff, if they so choose. (I hope they don’t choose to pass over the stories. They’re all so good!)

Once the Kickstarter ends, people will still be able to order the calendar. We’ll have a subscription page on WMG for that. In fact, you’ll be able to order the calendar late into December. (We’ll probably shut it down before December 24 for logistical reasons.) The subscriber will get a backlog of stories, and then a story a day from the day they subscribe.

Not to mention those who missed the entire thing will be able to get it all in one volume in July from their favorite retailers. Or someone who only learns about the project next October, and only wants the crime volume. They’ll be able to order that on its own for next year’s holiday season, in both ebook form and in paper.

At WMG, we talked about doing this around the time of the licensing expo. I knew that this project is perfect for licensing for products other than the calendar, books, and compilation. But we didn’t have the prep time this year. We have to do that work in future years.

This year, we still needed to do a lot of licensing, however.

We needed to license the art. (Including that little guy at the top of the blog, who is on the cover of the compilation which will appear in July.) We needed five pieces of art that we could use in the newsletter, on the books in all formats, and in our marketing.

We also needed a calendar. Allyson Longueira at WMG has designed one, but I’m not sure if that’s the one we’re going to use yet. (Neither is she.) We’re still experimenting.

At some point, we would love to design one that actually uses some programming to literally “unlock” the story, making it appear on someone’s computer screen after that someone has clicked on the date. Of course, we didn’t have the time to do that this year. We didn’t even have time to find someone who could do the programming for that.

We also needed stories. I had hoped to get 35 stories. I figured any stories I wrote would be bonus stories, promotion items. Instead, I ended up with 33 stories written by other writers, and I filled in the blanks.

All of those items are licensed in. We are licensing artwork and stories from creators. They keep the IP, but we need a license to use that IP in our project.

That’s where the contract comes in. I needed a contract that covered the newsletter, the efile, the compilation, the anthologies, and a few other things that we didn’t activate this year, but might do next year. The wording had to be precise. We are paying a fee to license those products, and an additional fee if we activate something in future years.

It took some wrangling and a few questions from our more savvy authors to get the contract into shape. Mostly it took a lot of explaining from me, because we couldn’t just use a licensing contract template. We were developing the template.

The art license was easier since, this year anyway, we’re using stock art from Deposit Photos. We had no need to use original art this year, although we might in future years. So we just needed to license works of art that fit with our vision and had the right kind of licenses available for what we were doing.

Note that this year we have a snowman theme. All of the books that include stories from the calendar have snowcreatures. (I want to say snowman, but that Bloody Christmas cover is more snowcreature.) My favorite is for the Christmas in July book, which is the compilation. That’s the one you see above.

I am also licensing out on this project, since it includes three pieces of my fiction and the vision for this product, upon which I’m acting as overall editor. I am licensing the rights for this project to WMG Publishing for specific fees. Although my stories won’t appear in the three anthologies, so my fiction contract is different, just as my novel contract is different, just as my editing contract is different.

If some foreign entity contacts us for translation rights, we will do more licensing. If a paper calendar company wants to somehow produce this as a calendar, we will license further. And so on and so forth, depending only on the limits of our imagination.

Because that’s what happened with Jacquie Lawson. I watched her online advent calendar develop in real time. From a few animated images and a few games with some canned music to this elaborate production she does now, the advent calendar uses a lot of licensing.

They use their own arrangements of the carols, and in recent years, have recorded their own music using the choir of Salisbury Cathedral.

Mike Hughes-Chamberlain writes much of the original music on the site, and arranges other traditional pieces.  And because he’s a smart guy, he sells the tunes separately as downloads. He also sells the sheet music. And notice that he has a terms of use for his music, so that purchasers don’t just willy-nilly upload it to YouTube.

I’m sure there was a lot of licensing involved in that music retailer’s 12 Days of Christmas promotion, but I’m also certain that much of that licensing was covered in the “advertising” section of the various musicians’ contracts. Or, perhaps, that’s what tripped up the whole thing, considering that the consumer was paying for the advertising as if it was content. Maybe the contract didn’t cover that after all.

That’s why you have to be careful with contracts. And, if you’re inventing a new form (as I think we’re doing), you need to be as cautious as possible when you draw up the language of the contract.

I have a hunch that 2020’s Holiday Spectacular will have a slightly different contract, as we refine what we’re doing. We’re still in uncharted territory here.

Dean, Allyson, and the staff of WMG are focused on delivering the calendar of stories and the anthologies to everyone as promised in 2019. I was focused on the editing in the spring, and the contracts in the early summer.

We’re still exploring the licensing possibilities. We also want to see how this project will go.

It looks like we’ll hit our Kickstarter ask, which is good. Because that means the WMG Holiday Spectacular is not a one-off. We’ll do it again.

All I know is this: If I were still essentially house-bound, like I was in Lincoln City, this project, with its daily email gift, would seem like a godsend to me—a way to celebrate the season without leaving the house.

I hope some people make the Holiday Spectacular part of their winter, just like I still make the Jacquie Lawson calendar part of mine.

The thing about this project? Even with all the work we’re doing to assemble it, and deliver it, and license everything properly, and organize it, and run the Kickstarter, and do the additional work that we could barely envision in May, we’re having fun. We giggled over our snowmen, I love the stories, and the support we’re getting on the Kickstarter is gratifying.

I wanted to share how licensing works on a project this elaborate. Even though we haven’t yet realized the project’s full potential. That’ll come in future years.

If you want to jump onboard with this project, and get 35 stories to ring out the year, then head to the Kickstarter now.  I know it’s only October, but we’ll be sending out stories by the end of next month, so we needed all the pieces in place before November 1.

And if you just want to watch from afar, keep an eye on this space. I’m sure there will be more news on this project as time goes on.


“Business Musings: Creating Content, Using Licenses, Making Something New (Rethinking The Writing Business Part 13),” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © TatyanaGl | Depositphotos



3 thoughts on “Business Musings: Creating Content, Using Licenses, Making Something New (Rethinking The Writing Business Part 13)

  1. I’ve been running the Indie Advent Calendar ( every year from December 1st to 25th for 5 years so far, and it’s been a great success in my opinion.

    I know how to code the opening of the doors when the user clicks on the number in the picture. It’s not too complicated, depending on the security level (mine is low since my authors and I only do that for fun).

    Of course I’m not yet able to pay my authors since the calendar is free, but we all consider it a great marketing tool.

    I’m looking forward to your calendar. It sounds like a fun project.

  2. On the reader’s side of things, I am so excited about this kickstarter! My birthday is Thanksgiving, so the idea of getting a holiday story a day starting then is kind of like another little birthday present. grin Glad this has funded and will be a go.

    Love your Fates Grayson series, but I hadn’t made the jump to your Santa series yet, so that will be fun as well.

    On the writer’s side of things, thanks for offering discounts on workshops/lectures/etc. on your kickstarters. Also, thank you for everything you’re writing on licensing. Between you and Dean, I am learning a ton about the sheer possibilities that exist in this business beyond the usual. Mind-blowing at times, but so much fun.

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